Liberal Grace

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Zogby gives Friedman a well-deserved shellacking

Thomas Friedman rolled-over for the bungling neo-con warmongers and now he expects a free pass.



James Zogby rocks! He gets the Middle East. I've been reading him regularly for about a year now and I can't think of a single thing he's been wrong about.

Well, today he gave a good scolding to Rice, that shameless bigot Virgil Goode and Thomas Freedman.

Specifically Zogby criticizes Friedman for Mideast Rules to Live by which Zogby sees as both bigoted and arrogant:

Zogby's response is:

[Friedman's] article makes the following observations:

Arabs are dishonest (they say one thing in private, another in public); Arabs are illogical (prone to conspiracies); Arabs are weak-kneed, without principles ("moderates", in particular, are dissemblers, with no backbone); Arabs are more violent and vengeful than "we" are; Arabs are petty and tribal and so on.

The Friedman lesson for Bush appears to be, "It's not your fault, sir, it's theirs. You and I weren't wrong about the war; they weren't ready for the gift you were giving them."

I have often been disturbed by Friedman's dismissive tone coupled with his weird obsession with all things Arab. With this piece my reaction went from disturbed to outrage.

As I read through Friedman's 15 rules for dealing with "Middle Easterners" (as he terms the objects of his condescension), I wondered, "what if an Arab had written a comparable piece about the Jews?"

The reaction would have been swift and justifiable condemnation.
Polluting the air of national discourse


Zogby brings up another problem with Friedman, that I just can't get past: Friedman cheerlead the worst foreign policy decision of modern times -- or maybe ever. And he has never given a clear apology for his incredibly bad judgement.

In the lead up to the Iraq War, Friedman, The New York Times columnist, was one of the invasion's strong advocates. He has now figured out why the war has gone so badly and so in a rather remarkable piece titled "Mideast peace to live by" appearing in the Times (December 20) and Gulf News (December 21) he offers advice to the US President George W. Bush.

Never known for humility or apologies, here's what Friedman has concluded: It's the Arabs' fault. I said the article was remarkable, and it was, not for its wisdom, but for its shameless self-serving bigotry.
I have a hard time getting past Friedman's horrible judgment about Bush and Iraq because Friedman was one of the good guys. He should have known better. I knew better. Millions of people, far less educated than Friedman, knew better.

The closest Friedman has given to an apology was (I paraphrase) "I never imagined that Bush would play politics the war on terror nor did I expect him to be such a screw up."

Oh, really? You didn't see that one coming?

Even if Bush has been competent, the Iraq war was a risky long-shot.

In an ideal world, I'd also like to see Iraq be shining Jeffersonian beacon on a hill. In an ideal world, I'd also be twenty years younger, forty pounds lighter and driving a Jag.

But, you go to war with the president you have, not the want. Thomas Friedman encouraged us to go war with a president we all knew was a screw-up.

As a Christian, I must forgive Friedman, but I just bring myself to respect him anymore. I used to. But not now.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Liberal Grace Book: Right Wing, Wrong Bird

The fact that Joel Hunter is too Christian for the Religious Right makes me want to read his book

Joel Hunter, the guy mentioned in the previous post, has a book out "Right Wing, Wrong Bird."

Can Christians learn to approach political issues constructively rather than negatively, learning to serve rather than yell? Pastor and author Dr. Joel C. Hunter says it's not only possible, it's necessary! Dr. Hunter offers a manifesto for fellow conservatives who feel "left out" by the Religious Right.

About the Author
Since 1985, Dr. Joel C. Hunter has served as senior pastor of Northland, A Church Distributed in Longwood, Fla. This innovative congregation of 12,000 uses technology to worship concurrently at five sites throughout Central Florida and throughout the world via "Webstream Worship." He serves on several boards, including the World Evangelical Alliance and the National Association of Evangelicals. Visit www.northlandchurch.net to learn more.


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Is John Edwards the most Christian candidate?

Edwards' emphasis on the poor is as genuinely Christian as it gets.



While Jesus says nothing about homosexuality or abortion and the rest of the bible only touches on the subject, there are 300 verses on poverty and economic justice.

Economic justice is not some obscure theme in the bible -- it is a central doctrine. So, you'd think this would be a huge issue for the Religious Right. Right?

Wrong.

WASHINGTON, Nov. 27 — The president-elect of the Christian Coalition of America, which has long served as a model for activism for the religious right, has stepped down, saying the group resisted his efforts to broaden its agenda to include reducing poverty and fighting global warming.
[...]
Dr. Hunter said, “When we really got down to it, they said: ‘This just isn't for us. It won't speak to our base, so we just can’t go there.’ ”
Pastor Chosen to Lead Christian Coalition Steps Down in Dispute Over Agenda

Following a central tenant of the bible won't speak to the conservative Christian base! We all knew this was true but it is still feels a little shameful to see it in print.

Both John Edwards and Jesus made helping the poor a central theme.

As for his Christian life, he hasn't played up his faith much (good!) but think a lot of people can relate to his spiritual journey:

...My faith has been enormous to me in my personal life and of course my personal life is a big impact on my political life. I have had an interesting faith journey over the course of my life. I was born and raised in the Southern Baptist church, I was baptized in the Southern Baptist Church and then later in life joined the Methodist church and like a lot of people, when I was in my college years, and I went to law school and became a lawyer and was raising my young family I moved away somewhat from my faith. And then I lost a son in 1996 and my faith came roaring back and it played an enormous role in my ability to get through that period. It stayed with me and has been enormously important." John Edwards on Faith


I refuse to make up my mind about 2008 until 2008, but I like John Edwards and will seriously consider voting for him. I like him because he clearly represents my Christian values.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Liberals needed to save Christianity (Part II)

Conservatives think liberal Christians are the enemy of the church. This is exactly the opposite of the truth.


Conservative Christians -- better thought of as traditionalists -- play a valuable role in the church as the guardians of orthodoxy. Without orthodoxy, the church would lose its way.

However, liberal Christians -- better thought of as progressives -- play an equally valuable role in keeping the church current and relevant. Without liberal reforms, the church would become irrelevant in a modern society.

That's why liberals are needed to save Christianity. Especially now.

The biggest current threat to Christianity is not lack of orthodoxy but lack of relevancy. While science is progressing faster-than-ever, evangelical homeschool parents are teaching their kids that the earth is 8,000 years old and two of every species on the planet got one big boat while the whole face of the earth was submerged in thousands of feet of water.

I'm not saying this to mock conservative Christians but to point out that this kind of pre-modern faith doesn't fit very well in the modern world.

Evangelical Christians aren't alone -- conservative Catholics have the same problem -- how does the church's teaching on birth-control remain relevant in a world of over-population and AIDS? How does their patriarchal demand for male-only priests allow the church to grow in a gender-equal modern society?

The church needs liberals now more than any time since the Reformation. How relevant will the American church be if it becomes part of Third World culture while the rest of society progresses and evolves?

It would be terrific if the church had a lively and intellectually-honest debate between the traditionalist and the progressive wings.

Unfortunately, honest debate hardly ever happens because the conservatives don't believe we're real Christians. We're not brothers and sisters in the Lord... we are the enemy.

But we liberal Christians aren't the enemy of the church, the bible or Jesus -- just the opposite! We liberals are essential in keeping the church relevant and vital.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Liberals needed to save Christianity (Part I)

It's not so strange that American conservative Christians would find a kinship with Nigerians.


The news about the two Episcopal churches who split from the larger denomination had an interesting footnote that might have left you scratching your head.

The churches didn't just leave -- the joined the Nigerian conference.

Two large and influential Episcopal parishes in Virginia voted overwhelmingly yesterday to leave the Episcopal Church and to affiliate with the Anglican archbishop of Nigeria, a conservative leader in a churchwide fight over homosexuality.
[...]
Most of the breakaway churches in Virginia are joining the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, an offshoot of the Nigerian church led by the archbishop of Nigeria, Peter J. Akinola.
Episcopal Parishes in Virginia Vote to Secede

Nigeria? Why, of all places, Nigeria?

I have my own theory, based on my very extensive immersion in conservative Christian culture.

The American conservative church* is so post-modern that they relate better with pre-modern cultures than they do with the modern west.

Their rejection of evolution is just one component in their general rejection of the Enlightenment and the scientific world view.

Make no mistake, conservative Christians are not stupid or uneducated; instead they've created an alternative world view that distinctly diverges from modern western society. It's quite remarkable and not very well understood, even though millions of Americans live in that other world.

There is a natural alliance between American conservative Christians and Christians in cultures that missed the Enlightenment.

For example, many conservative Christians believe that the spirit world is suppressed by the scientific world view and, more specifically, that demons work more subtly in rationalistic cultures and more openly in pre-modern cultures which believe in demons.

This world view has created an active tourist industry of "prayer walkers" who travel to less-developed countries to encounter "strongholds of darkness" and battle demons. It's a post-modern version of the pre-modern monastic tradition where prayer-warrior monks would battle the demons believed to dwell in the wilderness.

Attitudes towards mental illness, physical healing, luck, women's rights inspiration, territory, family structure and more are quite similar between post-modern American Christians and pre-modern Third World Christians.

And, of course, their shared hostility for homosexuals.

Nigerian church slams gay bishop
The African opposition is led by the Church of Nigeria whose Primate, Archbishop Peter Akinola, sees the appointment as a "satanic attack on the Church of God".
This is not a position shared strongly in the liberalised Western churches.

So, it's not as strange as it seems that a break-away American conservative church would ally itself with the Nigerian church.

*I'm aware that I'm generalizing when speak of "conservative Christians" but what I say is generally true. Of course, there are exceptions, variations and degrees. Feel free to put "many" or "most" in front of any of my generalizations.

Bush's pre-911 minset is so pre-911, it's 1943

Bush isn't just pre-911. He's sixty years pre-911.


Bush should have understood global terrorism before we were attacked by bin Laden but it is inexcusable that five years after he still clearly doesn't get-it.

Consider his two often-used slogans:

* We fight them over there so we don't have to fight them over here.
* Iraq is the front line in the war on terror.

Neither of these statements make a lick of sense in a "post 911 world".

"We fight them over there so we don't have to fight them over here."

With global terrorism, how could this even work? It's global for pete's sake!

1) How could raiding houses in Fallujah stop a terrorist cell in Chicago?
2) How could shooting an Iraqi insurgent in Baghdad prevent an Indian radical from hijacked a Delhi to New York flight? This makes no sense.

"Iraq is the front line in the war on terror."

There are no "fronts" in global terrorism. There are ideological centers like Saudi Arabia, London, Palestine and Iran and there are places they attack us but there are no "fronts."

If you're not paying attention, perhaps Iraq seems like a front but that's only because Bush gave them a close-up bead on Americans there. It would have been the same in any Muslim country we might have invaded.

In a "post 911 world" we need a president who understands global terrorism. Clearly Bush is not that guy.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Right's selective outrage

How many times have The Right been "outraged" that Clinton let bin Laden get away?



One of the more irritating charges I've hear from The Right is their indignation that Bill Clinton let bin Laden go.

US missed three chances to seize Bin Laden

The accounts vary and the main charge was debunked by the 911 Commission.

What I find irritating about these charges is that, even if true, they assume that Bill Clinton knew then what we know now.

It also assumes that the Republicans would have given Clinton the political backing he'd need for a (likely illegal) assassination or abduction instead of crying "Wag the Dog! Wag the Dog!" like they did when he tried to kill bin Laden in 1998.

We all remember when Bush and Rumsfeld let bin Laden slip away at Tora Bora because they thought it was a really nifty idea to outsource the capture of bin Laden to his former allies.

Well, it looks like there may have been a couple other times:

December 20, 2006 -- PARIS - A documentary says French special forces had Osama bin Laden in their sights twice about three years ago, but their U.S. superiors never ordered them to fire.

The French military, however, said that the incidents never happened and the report was based on "erroneous information."

The documentary, due to air next year, says the troops could have killed the al Qaeda leader in Afghanistan but the order to shoot never came, possibly because it took too long to request it.

"In 2003 and 2004, we had bin Laden in our sights. The sniper said, 'I have bin Laden,' " an anonymous French soldier is quoted as saying.

The documentary "Bin Laden: The Failings of a Manhunt" is by journalists Emmanuel Razavi and Eric de Lavarene, who have worked for several major French media outlets in Afghanistan.
U.S. Delay Let Osama Live


In this case, it's because of US incompetence and lack of urgency. That certainly is a familiar and credible theme about this administration, wether the claims are true or not. All denials aside, it perfectly fits the Bush pattern.

So, we've heard that claim about Clinton a zillion times, even after it was debunked by the 911 Commission. And, no doubt, we'll hear it a bunch more from the likes of Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter.

I ask, is this documentary going to receive anything but indifference from those same people?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Bush isn't stupid but he's not smart

When he should have been deliberate (before the war) Bush was hell-bent on rushing in. Now that things are urgent (thousands are dying) Bush decides to be deliberate.

It just amazes me how Bush gets so many things exactly backwards. When Saddam was contained and none of our soldiers were dying, he demanded that we rush into war. Now that several of our solders and scores of Iraqis are dying every day, Bush sets aside his "strong leadership" and decides this is the time to be Mr. Listener.

How backwards is that!?!?!

It's not clear if Bush even understands if we're winning or losing. (Of course we're losing. The "tipping point" of this war has long passed.)

We're not winning - but then we're not losing, claims Bush
President Bush conceded for the first time yesterday that America is not winning the war in Iraq and said that insurgents had thwarted efforts to stabilise the country.

Calling the enemy in Iraq “merciless and violent”, he gave warning that more sacrifices would be needed next year. “We’re not winning, we’re not losing,” he said. He is seriously considering an increase in troop levels.


Bush fancies himself to be another Winston Churchill. Right now Bush's is having a "Churchill moment" when he needs to make a bold -- and huge -- change in Iraq for any last hope. Odds are, he'll muff it.

Actually Bush's real Churchill moment was right after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke and America could lose the moral war. Instead Bush whiffled, probably not even understanding that the Churchill moment of his presidency was upon him. So, America lost the moral war making it inevitable that we would lose the military war.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

LG movie review: Blood of My Brother

Does it mystify you that the majority of Iraqis support attacks on the Americans who liberated them from Saddam? See this movie.



I went to this movie at the Dubai International Film Festival because I realized that I had never seen a movie about everyday victims of the Iraq war. I had seen Michael Moore's film but that was about the politics of the war.

Let me put in the disclaimer before I rave about the movie:
it is a first-time movie for director Andrew Berends and shows signs of that. Also, the character he documents -- the brother of one of the earlier Iraqi resistance casualties -- is not the most likable.

OK, -- disclaimer aside -- this is why you should see this movie: it's probably the only movie you'll see that documents why Iraqis hate us even though we liberated them from Saddam.

Since America "doesn't do body counts" of foreigners we can't really know how many Iraqis have died.

The Lancet -- a highly respected medical journal -- put the number at 650,000 six months ago. Of course the Bush administration immediately swift boated The Lancet but I'll put my confidence in the Lancet over Karl Rove and the Bush Administration every time when it comes to credible data.

Anyway, pick any Iraqi casualty number you believe -- and then multiply it by infinity.

That's the level of grief the Iraqi people are suffering because of this war.

The Blood of My Brother documents the death of one single casualty in Iraq and: the psychological impact on his younger brother, the emotional impact on his immediate family, the life-changing impact on those in his personal circle and the radicalizing impact on his community.

The movie makes clear that there is no easy measuring or categorizing the impact of this single death. If you have ever had a family member die an early and unexpected death, you know that the grief and impact are really infinite.

So multiply that by 60,000 or 600,000 -- it doesn't matter -- and you'll understand why so very many Iraqis resent and hate us.

It is sad but no surprise that the majority of Iraqis approve of attacks on US troops who liberated them from Saddam. Even among the Shiites!

If that number mystifies you, then I strongly recommend you see The Blood of My Brother

Monday, December 18, 2006

On-Line Animal Sacrifice

Ancient ritual of animal sacrifice goes Internet. This region never ceases to surprise me!



I opened my local paper this morning to find this headline:

Online animal sacrifice for Eid catching up

Lahore: First it was banking, marriage matches and Eid cards, and now devout Muslims can also get the animal of their choice sacrificed online for festivities like Eid Al Adha.

Many local and international are offering traditional sacrificial animals - goat, sheep, camel and cow - for sacrifice and billing it through credit card.

Under the system, customers can either donate the animal directly to the poor or take home the meat from the trust office.

The system is also fast catching up with the people.
Gulf News Article


I Googled "Qurban" and found that a number of people are offering on-line sacrificial services. It's not on-line in the sense of "First Person Shooter" but a way to pay for it, with the option of the sacrifice being done elsewhere and given to the poor. I imagine this is quite handy for Muslims living in countries where slaughtering a goat in your driveway would tick off others in the condo association.

This sacrifice is part of "Eid ul-Adha" an important part Muslim religion and culture. In Pakistan, I heard foreigners complain about this more than any other holiday or ritual. Prior to the holiday, the streets fill up with goats. In a city of like Karachi of 14 million people, this can be several million goats all slaughtered at once. The blood literally flows in the streets and the intestines and stomach are left in the street to bake in the sun until they are retrieved.

Actually, the holiday didn't bother me and my wife that much. It helped that we were invited by friends to join in the ritual during our first year over here. Once you get over the actual slaughter, it's a very primal and meaningful ritual. As a Christian, it better helped me understand the connection between death blood and redemption, which is so central to our faith.

As for this trend of doing on-line sacrifice, I'm not sure it's a good development. If one can meet their obligations with a few clicks of a mouse and avoid bloody hands, I have to wonder if the power of the ritual is lost. A ding on your credit card is not the same as slaughter on your own driveway.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Trashing the bible to protect it.

Conservative Episcopal churches think they're saving the bible, but they're actually messing with it.

As you are probably aware, the Episcopal church is splitting over the issue of homosexuals in the church:

ATTLEBORO -- The wave of defections that has rocked the Episcopal Church since the ordination of the first openly gay Episcopal bishop in 2003 has reached the liberal Diocese of Massachusetts, where one congregation has severed its ties to the national church. Nearly two dozen others across New England have disassociated themselves from the church's teachings on gay clergy, homosexuality, and salvation. Episcopal split reaches Mass. diocese


Interestingly, the subhead for this article was, "N.E. churches leaving over teachings on gays, salvation"

One of these issues is worth splitting over and the other is not!

Salvation is a core doctrine of Christianity. It's the central theme of the New Testament. If the Episcopal leadership is preaching the salvation does not come from Jesus Christ, I can understand why churches would split over that.

However, homosexuality is not a core doctrine of Christianity. Jesus never even touches the subject and there are only handful of other references, here and there. It rates somewhere above head coverings but below avarice.

To link these two issues really messes with the bible -- to the point of heresy.

Where is homosexuality a huge, divisive, defining issue? In politics, obviously. Clearly, American politics has corrupted the church of Jesus Christ and our reading of the bible -- and this was done mostly by those who seek to protect both.

Shiites? Sunnis? -- It's all so confusing!

Here's a short primer on the ME written for Silvestre Reyes but you might find it helpful, too.


I called for Silvestre Reyes to withdraw his name because he was totally confused about the very basics of the Middle East. As I said in my original post, I don't expect all Americans to understand the differences between Sunnis and Shiites, since it is a little confusing.

However, if you don't know the difference, you probably shouldn't have an opinion on the Iraq war since you really don't understand it. It would be like having a strong opinion about England's involvement in North Ireland without knowing the difference between Catholics and Protestants and who-is-which.

But I expect our leaders to know this stuff. Unless Reyes or Bush have totally mastered this and whole lot more, they can't make informed decisions about anything over here. Bush, famously, didn't know there were different types of Muslims on the eve of the invasion and look where that got us! But Bush wasn't alone in his confusion.

Trent Lott, was obviously confused by it all:

“It’s hard for Americans, all of us, including me, to understand what’s wrong with these people,” he said. “Why do they kill people of other religions because of religion? Why do they hate the Israeli’s and despise their right to exist? Why do they hate each other? Why do Sunnis kill Shiites? How do they tell the difference? They all look the same to me.“
Lott On Iraq: ‘Why Do Sunnis Kill Shiites? … They All Look The Same To Me’

At least Lott "knew what he didn't know." The neo-cons were far worse because they swaggered around like experts but had it completely backwards.

William Kristol, the famous neocon, pronounced with 100% certainty and full authority:
“there’s been a certain amount of pop sociology in America… that the Shi’a can't get along with the Sunni and the Shi’a in Iraq just want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime. There’s almost no evidence of that at all.”The End of Iraq


Even though Kristol had been writing extensively on the Iraq war, he obviously hadn't been reading much! When Kristol said this, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq had been around for 21 years, giving him plenty of time for a heads-up on this subject.

Well, I won't beat this conservative horse any longer but will steer you to this helpful primer on the major players in Iraq and the ME:

An open letter to Silvestre Reyes

The two American Bible Belts

The Democrats need to understand that there are two bible belts -- and one is their natural ally.

The Dixicrats and various "southern strategies" have given much attention to the so-called bible belt. I'm sure you're aware of it. Wikipedia maps the bible belt as it is typically conceived.



But I contend that there are two bible belts in America and they are quite different at some key points. I also contend that the "Northern Bible Belt" is a natural ally to the Democrats. It seems like many Democrats are quite unaware of the Northern Bible Belters (my own religious stock.)

The Southern Bible Belters are happy to have the perceived corner on Christianity. My experience is that they are well-aware of the Northern Bible Belt but dismiss us as "liberal Christians" and thus not real Christians.

But this just isn't true. While we Northern Bible Belters value tolerance, we are not morally or theologically liberal. But we tend to vote liberal, especially in the urban parts of our belt.

Here is how I map out the two belts, using per-capita church identity:


If you still have doubts about the Northern Bible Belt -- consider this: New York is more Christian than Texas:


Do you think of New Yorkers as more Christian as Texans? But that's what the statistics tell us. But not just New York! Northerners tend to be highly Christian, just not-so-much evangelical.

I am well-aware of the Northern Bible Belt because my own heritage is North Dakotan who are culturally very conservative but religiously mainstream.


By no means is the Northern Bible Belt a smaller version of the Southern Bible Belt -- northerners are as religiously identified as those in the Southern Bible Belt. Here are the top ten states with the highest percentage of Christian denominational affiliation:


Although both belts are relatively even in their Christian self-identity, the Northern Bible Belt has a whole lot more Christians, thanks to large urban areas like New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, etc.


Look at the top 15 states with the most Christians and notice how many are in the Northern Bible Belt. Also notice how many are "blue states."



Obviously these two bible belts are quite a bit different from each other and I'll discuss than in another blog entry.

I just want to convince my fellow Democrats that our Bible Belt is every bit as religious as the Southern Bible Belt and we are even bigger. I also want our political leaders and the media to take us seriously because I am tired of the Religious Right claiming ownership of Christianity in America!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Perles of Twisted Wisdom

I wasn't the only one who thought Richard Perle was totally out-to-lunch with his "Iraq needed a De Gaulle" comment.

A couple of days ago I said: Totally disgraced Richard Perle should just shut up.. Yesterday, Gulf News was equally as critical:

Perle's wisdom misguided

Nonsense, nearly four years after the Iraq invasion, continues to be uttered from the lips of discredited neocons. The latest example comes from Richard Perle, a former architect of George W. Bush's foreign policy. He said what the Iraq invasion needed was a De Gaulle figure to lead the tanks into Baghdad.
[...]
First, the Americans had chosen Iraqi figures to lead the country but they suffered from being linked to corruption and unpopularity among Iraqis. Second, if the Americans had gone in with a military strongman in the De Gaulle mould, they would have been rightly accused of replacing one military leader with another.
[...]
Perle is deceiving himself if he believes even if a De Gaulle figure had existed for Iraq the Americans would have listened to what he said. Iraq's post-invasion troubles stem from Washington's political and military incompetence. The plight of Iraq today is not because a De Gaulle figure did not lead the troops but because there was neither a Truman nor a Churchill to comprehend the consequences of invasion and plan accordingly.


Here is the original article (in PDF format).

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Reyes must withdraw his name

If Silvestre Reyes is confused about the difference between Shiite and Sunni, then he doesn't understand even the basic framework of the Iraq war or the War on Terror.


Never mind that Bush didn't know there were different types of Muslims on the eve of the invasion, the GOPs are having great fun with Silvestre Reyes muffing a couple very basic questions about Islam.

New House Intelligence Committee Chair Short on Intelligence

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Is al Qaeda a Sunni organization, or Shi'ite?

The question proved nettlesome for Rep. Silvestre Reyes of Texas, incoming Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

"Predominantly -- probably Shi'ite," he said in a recent interview with Congressional Quarterly, a periodical that covers political and legislative issues in Congress.

Unfortunately for Reyes, the al Qaeda network led by Osama bin Laden is comprehensively Sunni and subscribes to a form of Sunni Islam known for not tolerating theological deviation.

In fact, U.S. officials blame al Qaeda's former leader in Iraq, the late Abu Musab al Zarqawi, for the surge in sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shi'ites.


I hate to agree with FOX, but Reyes must withdraw his nomination. He just doesn't know enough -- not even close.

If he couldn't answer those questions off-the-top-of-his-head, it means that he hasn't even been reading the newspaper.

Living over here in the middle east, I know all that basic stuff -- it is elemental to everything over here. But I don't criticize Americans who can't keep it straight, since it is a little confusing. Many Muslims are similarly confused between, let's say, Protestants and Catholics. But if a Muslim were an ambassador to the Vatican, I'd expect him to know!

Anyone on the intelligence Committee absolutely must know this stuff back and forth, up and down -- and in great detail. The fact that he doesn't know it at all means he can't even have an informed opinion on ME foreign policy.

Totally disgraced Richard Perle should just shut up.

Even though he was one of the "brains" behind the worst American foreign policy decision since... well... maybe ever, Richard Perle thinks he still has a right to an opinion.

Top US neo-conservative Richard Perle, a key former architect of US President George W. Bush's foreign policy, has admitted there were mistakes in the execution of the Iraq war, saying the invasion needed "an Iraq De Gaulle".

Perle, who was an adviser to former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, told German weekly 'Die Zeit' in an issue published today that a string of tactical errors had resulted in the chaos reigning in Iraq today.

"The idea was good, the execution was bad," he was quoted as saying in an advance German transcript of the interview."
Perle: US needed 'Iraqi De Gaulle' for invasion

Oh yeah... that's it! It was a GREAT idea, done poorly!

Nonsense! It was a BONEHEADED idea, doomed to failure.

And his "Iraqi De Gaulle" idea is just as dumb. Is it going to be a "Shiite De Gaulle" or a "Sunni De Gaulle" or a "Kurd De Gaulle"? And how is Perle's "Iraq De Gaulle" going to get the other ethnic groups to submit other than acting like another "Iraq Hitler" which they already had with Saddam?

This is why I say that you should never let conservatives fight your wars. They are always looking backwards and never get the historical analogies correct leading them into disastrous policy decisions.

And Perle really chapped my hiney with this one:

"Perle blasted the findings released last week by the Iraq Survey Group mapping a way forward in the country, "I have never seen such a foolish report," he said.


You'd think the man who was the architect behind one of the most disastrous foreign policy plans, ever, would just slink away. But NO! He dares call Baker-Hamilton "fools."

I couldn't find it on the 'net so I scanned it:

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

An Honest Look at Britney's Genitals

Bill O'Reilly did yet another feature on Britney Spears' up-skirt shots. Let's cut the fake moral outrage.

Yesterday, Bill O'Reilly did yet another one of his tawdry features on bad girls -- this time on Britney Spears' up-skirt shots.

In case you missed it, she flashed the paparazzi two or three times in one week (Another Britney Spears Upskirt - No Underwear Once Again) setting off a global circus about it.

I think what bothers me the most is Fox news who run multiple features morally condemning Spears but clearly enjoying any opportunity to boost the ratings with sex while claiming it's a legitimate news item. But it wasn't just Fox, I heard about this on National Public Radio!

What I haven't heard is anyone say what we all know is true:

1) Nobody is really shocked or outraged.

An up-skirt shot is pretty mild stuff compared to what else is on the Internet. Furthermore, we're especially not shocked that it came from her. After all, she just showed us that last few square inches we hadn't yet seen.

2) It's not that weird.

Besides moral outrage, the other comments insinuate that Britney Spears is so freakishly weird for doing this. The only thing kind of weird is that a famous person flashed us for free. Normally stars demand that they get paid expose themselves.

Untold thousands upon thousands of women get naked for a camera -- every year! Heck, Dr. Laura did it. So what Spears did is just not that strange. Most people wouldn't do it but a sizable minority strip for the camera every day and the majority enjoy the pictures.

3) This really doesn't matter.

Fox and NPR really have no excuse for bringing this up. I forget why NPR mentioned it but O'Reilly had on a feminist who said that Spears was hurting women. I learned in college to never argue with feminists but I doubt this. At most, this is one small increment in a larger issue of exploiting women for money.

I hope I don't sound all jaded and relativistic -- I still have the capacity to be morally outraged. But I am past being outraged by pop icons behaving badly -- especially when no one is really hurt.

As for the human Britney (as opposed to the pop icon) -- I'm not saying she doesn't have a serious personal problem. She's getting a divorce and just recently had a baby -- that has got to be hard. So, maybe she is acting-out in public. Or maybe she perceived a needs to change the tone of her tabloid coverage. Maybe both. Who knows? It really doesn't matter.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Bush can and has cooperated with Iran and Syria

James Baker likes to point out that Bush already cooperated with Iran. I'd like to point out that they've already cooperated with Syria.


James Baker has been making the rounds after the ISG report and I've heard him point-out a couple of times that America and Iran found a way to talk and even cooperate after the fall of the Taliban.

He's referring to a surprising development after the Afghanistan invasion when Iran helped us track down Taliban who had fled into their country. It was such an anomalous little story that most people never noticed it and most everybody -- but not James Baker -- have forgotten about it.

Basically, Iran came to our aid after 911 and the Bush administration cooperated with them briefly but then -- true to form -- totally rejected the opportunity to build on this hopeful opportunity.

How Neo-Cons Sabotaged Iran's Help on al Qaeda

WASHINGTON - After the Sep. 11 attacks, U.S. officials responsible for preparing for war in Afghanistan needed Iran's help to unseat the Taliban and establish a stable government in Kabul. Iran had organised resistance by the "Northern Alliance" and had provided arms and funding, at a time when the United States had been unwilling to do so.
[...]
The bureaucracy recognised that there was an opportunity to work with Iran not only on stabilising Afghanistan but on al Qaeda as well. As reported by the Washington Post on Oct. 22, 2004, the State Department's policy planning staff had written a paper in late November 2001 suggesting that the United States should propose more formal arrangements for cooperation with Iran on fighting al Qaeda.
[...]
But the cooperation against al Qaeda was not the priority for the anti-Iranian interests in the White House and the Pentagon.
[...]
Soon after that decision, hardliners presented Iranian policy to Bush and the public as hostile to U.S. aims in Afghanistan and refusing to cooperate with the war on terror -- the opposite of what officials directly involved had witnessed.

Bush has already cooperate with Syria -- on torture

There is another anomalous sub-story going around that few people have noticed: the Bush administration has already cooperated with Syria -- on torture.

Maher Arar s a Canadian software engineer who was falsely accused of being an Al-Qaeda operative and was subsequently tortured in Syria. On September 26, 2002, during a stopover in New York en route from Tunis to Montreal, Arar was detained by the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service who may have been acting upon false and misleading information supplied by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Despite carrying a Canadian passport, he was deported to Syria in accordance with a U.S. policy known as "extraordinary rendition."[2] Arar was then held in solitary confinement in a Syrian prison where, according to a Commission of Inquiry headed by Justice Dennis O'Connor, he was regularly tortured until his eventual release and return to Canada in October 2003.
Maher Arar at Wikipedia

The basic outline of this case don't seem to be in much dispute -- and clearly the Bush administration had to talk to and cooperate with Syria in order for this to happen.

Less clear is if there was a feed-back loop from Syria to America about intelligence gathered from the torturous interrogation. To me, it seems only logical that there was. After all, the Bush administration insists that the point of "harsh interrogation" is to gather intelligence about planned attacks.

So, clearly, America has and can cooperate with Syria under Bush. Very likely, America and Syria have even cooperated on sensitive intelligence gathering about al Queda.

So, why can't the Bush Administration talk with Syria regarding a solution to Iraq?

Fun Protest Song!

I've been frustrated that there aren't enough good protest songs around. Here's a fun one with Ricki Lee Jones on the vocals.

I found this really fun protest song at eMusic : Have you Had Enough! by a group call ROTFLMAO which includes Ricky Lee Jones. I think you'll be able to listen to the sample without joining.

I am just old enough to remember the vibrant protest music of the Vietnam War era but I love the old Woody Guthrie songs of my parents era, too. What has happened to our artists? Where are the great protest songs?

It is free at eMusic but you'll have to join. I, personally recommend eMusic. The songs are only $0.33 each and they have literally millions of independent artists -- not your mainstream acts, though.

Join eMusic and help support LiberalGrace. I don't think you'll regret it!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Baker-Hamilton is not "just another study" -- it's hope for a divided America.

This is one-last chance for Bush to unite the country, salvage his reputation and maybe even win in Iraq.



Everybody remembers the tremendous unity after 911. We all remember that. We all recognize the tremendous disunity now. But, few of us can put our finger on the moment when America went from tremendous unity to tremendous disunity.

I think it was the moment when Karl Rove calculated that the GOP could use 911 to sweep the 2002 mid-terms. Before that moment, 911 was a sacred event that all Americans shared. After that, it became just another wedge issue like abortion or gay marriage.

But, perhaps you can identify another time or maybe it has just been the relentless partisan politics by Bush and the GOP which got so severe that they called us Democrats traitors, friends of terrorists and enemies of America.

How can a country recover from this?

Bush is framing the Baker-Hamilton report as just another study to be considered, among many.

Sure, there are other studies but the Baker-Hamilton report is more than a study, it's an opportunity for Bush to re-unite the country behind a credible plan and move us forward, together.

Honestly, I never thought Bush would get another chance like this; the lines are just to starkly drawn. But this is his chance to "be a uniter not a divider" like he promised as a candidate. It's a miracle he got one last chance, I doubt he'll get another.

But will Bush take it? Not likely.

1) Bush does not want to work with the Democrats.
2) Bush always muffs these kind of history-defining opportunities.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

No Mr. President! Not another Iraq study!

Is Bush's ego so fragile that he must have his own name on an Iraq study?



I was stunned to read that the Baker-Hamilton and the Pentagon studies are not enough for Bush. He's started his own!

"The recommendations from the congressionally-convened commission are nonbinding, and the Bush administration is conducting its own crisis evaluation of Iraq."
Iraq Study Group Proposals Face Early Critiques

Not another study group! The Baker-Hamilton group have taken from mid-March to finish their report, during which untold thousands of people have died and the situation has quickly deteriorated from absolutely horrible to much worse than that.

The best leaders are people of their time -- like Winston Churchill who Bush so admires. Leaders who see clearly where we are now and what we need to do now. Bush is so clearly not that. This war got away from us in Summer of 2003 and only now Bush is conducting an evaluation. Would he have taken so much time to study the crisis if his own daughters were over there?

It is so perfectly clear that we need a major change now. No more studies. No more incremental course changes. Not another six "critical" months. No more waiting for the Iraqi army to "stand up."

Now, Mr. Bush, is the time to act and to completely change the course of this titanic disaster. Now, Mr. Bush, now.

Mr. Gates, What the heck were you thinking?!?!?

Robert Gates needs to come clean on Iran-Contra.

Am I the only one who thinks it is not a good idea to hand-over Iraq, arguably America's worst foreign bungle in recent history, to a someone who was part of America's arguably most dumb foreign policy action?

At the very least, I think Gates should come clean on his role in Iran-Contra and tell us what the heck he was thinking when they illegally sold weapons to America's sworn enemy? Muslim radicals, no less!

Monday, December 04, 2006

I'm rethinking my "Bush should talk with people" position.

I want Bush to talk with people -- but only if he's competent about it.

Sphere Featured Blogs

As I was reading this Reuters article, "Iraq Shia leader seeks tougher U.S. action" I noticed that a key piece of information was missing.

Read this excerpt and see if you can notice it, too.

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - One of Iraq's most powerful Shi'ite leaders said after meeting President Bush on Monday that civil war could only be staved off if U.S. forces struck harder against Sunni-led insurgents.

While Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of the biggest party in Iraq's government, SCIRI, met Bush in Washington, the U.S. envoy and military chief in Baghdad implored Iraqis to break a cycle of violence which they said would destroy the country.

Hakim denied that majority Shi'ites were stoking sectarian violence and put the onus on Washington to take tougher action against insurgents.


No where in the article does it tell the reader what "SCIRI" stands for: the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

Bush is talking with Islamic radicals.

In theory I applaud this. In reality this scares me because I wonder if Bush understands who he is speaking with. After all, this is the same president who invaded a Muslim country without knowing that there were different kinds of Muslims!

Does Bush understand that the SCIRI has deep connections with Iran? More than just connections, The SCIRI is an agency of Iran.

The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), a Shi'i resistance group also known as the Supreme Assembly of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SAIRI), was formed in Iran in 1982 to provide an opposition to Iraqi aggression against Iran. Following the Iran-Iraq war, the organization continued to operate with the aim of toppling the regime of Saddam Hussein. SCIRI was directly supported with funds by Tehran and with arms by Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard. The movement advocated theocratic rule for Iraq and conducted a low-level, cross-border guerrilla war against the regime of Saddam Hussein.
Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq

With any other president -- even the sometimes hapless Reagan -- I'd be fully confident they had done their homework before entering into sensitive talks with an ally of our enemy.

But with Bush, I have my doubts.

Bolton and Big Baby Bush

Bolton is only in office because Bush disdains the rules.

John Bolton, who will be resigning after a recess appointment is another example of why we need public financing of elections: we need to wrestle politics away from the privileged classes and open it back up to the working and middle classes -- to people who come from cultures which value playing by the rules.

As you may remember, the Democrats and a few common-sense Republicans realized that it's a really bad idea to send an ambassador to the UN who has publicly expressed his disdain for the body. Also, it's just common sense that you don't give a diplomatic position to someone who clearly is very un-diplomatic. (to put it politely.)

So, the Bolton nomination was dead in the water.

A different president -- one who respects the rules -- would simply have nominated a different ambassador from the long list of qualified, eligible Republicans -- candidates who hadn't expressed hostility towards the U.N. and who showed some signs of personal diplomacy.

But not Bush! Old Boy! He gave the Senate the finger! I'm sure the GOP leadership all sniggered over their Dom Pérignons that night.

No doubt, the original intent (something conservatives claim they value) of a recess appointment wasn't as a loop hole around Senate confirmation. Instead, it was a practical provision, to be used respectfully, if a position had an urgent need to be filled during an era when the Senate took much longer recesses.

I have no doubt that Bush saw the recess appointment rule as a "loop hole" which is how the privileged classes look at rules.

(In fairness, it should be noted that this provision has been abused from the beginning. But it has just gone crazy in the last few years. The record holder is Ronald Reagan with 243 as a workaround to a Democratic Senate. Bush has done 106 which is remarkable since he controlled the Senate. Clinton did 140.)

Pfizer: a good drug company

Let's acknowledge that Pfizer did the moral thing.

Pfizer took a huge hit when it ended it's next big drug rock star, torcetrapib.

Pfizer's failed pill, torcetrapib, was designed to prevent heart attacks and strokes by raising the "good cholesterol," HDL. High levels of HDL, which clears fatty plaque out of the arteries, seem to prevent heart attacks. Scientists thought a drug that raised HDL would prevent heart attacks and extend lives.

But an independent safety board stopped a 15,000 patient trial comparing the combination of torcetrapib and Pfizer's bestseller, the cholesterol-lowering pill Lipitor. In the study, 82 patients died while receiving the combination, compared with just 55 who received Lipitor alone. A statistical analysis showed the difference was unlikely to be the result of chance.
Behind Pfizer's Failure

Right behind terrorism and Colombian drug kingpins, the big pharmaceuticals are portrayed as evil in our popular media.

So, I think it is important that we publicly acknowledge that Pfizer did the right thing here.

It must have been very tempting to keep the trials going, considering Pfizer is abandoning $800,000,000 in research. That has to be serious money, even for a big pharmaceutical.

Rumsfeld: a liar? a bungler? both?

Rumsfeld's memo was talked-to-death this weekend but I'd like to add my two cents.

If you unaware, this memo -- probably leaded by Rumsfeld himself -- shows that he knows we're losing in Iraq. Apparently he doesn't want to step off the world stage without correcting the general perception that he is one of the most incompetent, clueless, arrogant Secretaries of Defense ever to hold the office.

If Rumsfeld leaked this memo to boost his image, it failed on me:

1) It proves he's a liar -- a shameless, high-stakes liar. When he and the Whitehouse were telling us that America was winning in Iraq, they knew we were losing.

2) Knowing now is no great virtue. Everybody knows now that we are losing. (well, except Fox viewers). A competent Secretary of Defense should have known we were on the path to failure in summer of 2003. All the signs were present then, when there was still time to do something about it.

Some of us even knew before the invasion that this war would likely end in disaster. As we all remember, our voices got shouted down with taunts of "treason!"

I wouldn't call it "treason" but I would call it "betrayal" to tell America that we are winning a war when they know we're losing.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Truths about terrorism from a fiction writer.

In a very short interview Martin Amis hits several profound truths, right on the head.



I had never heard of Martin Amis but I'm going to pay attention to him now. I overlooked his interview in Newsweek International but it's not at all out-of-date.

It is called Goading the Enemy

In my own preaching I've taken to story telling as a way to teach truth. I've found that the motif of story-telling is much better for grasping profundity than lecture, teaching or preaching. So maybe that's why Amis, a writer, seems to have a pretty good grasp on the larger issues of terrorism.

NEWSWEEK: In the story you describe jihad as the most charismatic idea of Atta's generation. Do you really believe this?

AMIS: It's self-evidently true. You're always onto a winner if you can persuade people they can be righteous and violent at the same time. Nothing beats that. Officially sanctioned violence is unimprovable. And with this paradise which they've stirred into the mix—whereby with an act of mass murder, you gain the keys—you've got a very attractive idea. Also, it gives the "nobody" a chance to play a decisive role in world history, and there are lots of people who are going to be drooling at the thought of that.


Cripes! I've read countless articles and books on jihad and I can't remember anyone describing the appeal of Jihad so well.

He puts it so succinctly that it sounds obvious but it's not. For example, when he says, You're always onto a winner if you can persuade people they can be righteous and violent at the same time. Nothing beats that. Officially sanctioned violence is unimprovable. do most Americans really want to believe this? If so, it means that we aren't that different from the jihadis, are we?

NEWSWEEK: So you think that's what motivates terrorists?

AMIS: I'm sure. I say in the story [that Atta] was in it for the killing, and I think that's another underestimated consideration: killing people is obviously terrific fun. It's a crude expression of power to kill people, and it's arousing.


What he says is disturbing but, alas, surely true.

Watch this video and then tell me that Amis isn't telling the truth when he says that killing is fun and arousing.



NEWSWEEK: Have the actions of the West led to increased terror?

AMIS: The great danger of terrorism is not what it inflicts. Even September 11 was absorbable. It's what it provokes. You goad the enemy into doing something against its interests.

Osama bin Laden always thought the West would tie itself down in an Islamic country, but he assumed that country would be Afghanistan. Now, with Iraq, we seem to have lost on both fronts. With incredible thoroughness, we're playing into their hands.



Amis nails it again. Two short sentences that you could fill two books!

The danger of terrorism is not what it inflicts but what it provokes. If the terrorists really hate us for our freedoms, then they must really be happy about the direction our country has taken regarding civil rights.

"Osama bin Laden always thought the West would tie itself down in an Islamic country, but he assumed that country would be Afghanistan." This is a reality so painful to admit that I think most Americans refuse to actually consider it: A guy in flip-flops has outsmarted the last remaining superpower. He could never beat us with weapons -- so he beat us by out playing us. Had we taken the bait and only gone into Afghanistan, he still might not have won -- but we stupidly led ourselves into an even bigger and deeper swamp.

Even though I was living next door to Afghanistan and -- literally -- in the same neighborhood as al Queda, it took me a while to figure out Osama's motivation for 911. Surely he knew the USA would come in with full guns blazing. Then I figured it out: he WANTED the USA to come in with full guns blazing. He declared war on us a few times and Clinton wisely didn't take the bait. So he attacked us and Bush went in.

You see, the Taliban think they can beat America in Afghanistan the way they beat the Soviet Union there -- certainly not in the first battles or even in the first decade -- but eventually.

The Taliban take credit for bringing down the Soviet Union and they aren't completely wrong about that. That war took them a decade and they would have fought much longer than that. Much much longer. That's how Osama plans to beat America, too.

NEWSWEEK: You've written that Western ideology is to blame for weakening the West in the war on terror. How?

AMIS: Everyone's casting about, saying, "Why are they doing this?" And gooey-eyed newscasters on CNN say, "Why? Why this anger?" Paul Berman, the author of "Terror and Liberalism," calls this tendency "rationalist naïveté." [Terrorists] rejected reason.

But the West goes on. I'm talking about a certain strata of opinion that is dying for American failure in Iraq because they hate George Bush. They're dying for failure, but they're also attributing reason to the enemy, saying, "What terrible historic wrongs have we committed to bring this down on ourselves?"


Finally, Amis hits on some points I disagree with -- at least in part. Osama and the radicals can tell you their motivation and it's not completely irrational. There are two books out giving the philosophy of bin Laden in his own words:






I haven't read either of these books but I've read a number of bin Laden excepts and I don't think he has totally rejected reason. Certainly, I don't agree with his reasoning and I can see that he comes to dead-ends or circles in his reasoning but no worse than even our own political leaders.

Asking the question "Why are they doing this?" is one of the first questions we should ask of the enemy. Knowing your enemy is one of the most powerful weapons we have but we don't want to know our enemy because it makes it harder to kill them. It is much easier to just attribute animal irrationality to them.

"I'm talking about a certain strata of opinion that is dying for American failure in Iraq because they hate George Bush. They're dying for failure,"


I keep hearing about these people from Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity but I have yet to meet one. There may be a few, here or there, but not enough to make a whole strata.

The liberals I know grieve and agonize over this horrible mess -- that's why we warned America off it in the first place.

There are a few other points I quibble with Amis about but he hits some larger truths so clearly that I enthusiastically recommend the article.

(I've reposed it here.)

Blessed are the peacemakers

A lot of conservatives Christians are going to criticize the pope for "compromising" but I give him credit for obeying Jesus' peace teaching.



Pope hailed for praying toward Mecca like Muslims

Pope Benedict wound up a fence-mending visit to Turkey on Friday amid praise from the local press for visiting Istanbul's Blue Mosque and praying toward Mecca "like Muslims."

The Pope, who sparked protests across the Muslim world with a speech two months ago seen as criticizing Islam, looked relaxed and pleased as he entered the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit for a mass at the end of the sensitive four-day trip.

His first visit to a mostly Muslim country, held under tight security for fear of protests by nationalists and Islamists, was highlighted by a series of conciliatory gestures culminating in a stop on Thursday afternoon in Istanbul's famed Blue Mosque.

"The Pope's dreaded visit was concluded with a wonderful surprise," wrote daily Aksam on its front page.


The peace teachings of Jesus are not some minor, obscure doctrine -- peace making is a central tenant of his teachings.

The American religious right likes to emphasize abortion and homosexuality which Jesus never taught on but then blatantly disobey Jesus' perfectly clear commandment:

You have heard that it was said, "Love your neighbor and hate your enemy."
But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:43-44).

I give the pope lots of credit for this gesture of peace making, in obedience to one of Jesus' most important teachings.